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For all the talk of Denver’s growth and development, the Mile High City isn’t exactly a great place to launch a fashion career. Unlike cities with better resources (New York, Los Angeles, even Nashville), designers here have additional hurdles to overcome, specifically access to skilled sewers and pattern makers, as well as production facilities that can produce a high-quality Ready-to-Wear collection.
But Denver-based bridal and special occasion designer Allison Nicole Berger, who launched her eponymous Allison Nicole Designs in May 2017, is making it work. Not only are her custom creations produced right here in the Mile High City, they’re getting noticed across the continent. The young designer has already shown at Vancouver Fashion Week, and this year, her romantic designs—a coalescing of classic silhouettes with delicate floral motifs and subtle color—will be gracing the runways at Denver Fashion Week and the famed New York Bridal Fashion Week. 5280 talked to the young designer about why she got into fashion, and how she’s making a name for herself well beyond our landlocked state.
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How did you become interested in fashion and why did you decide to become a designer?
Allison Nicole Berger: It started when I was little. I learned how to sew with my grandmother. Then I started watching Project Runway and got hooked. I worked for a sewing studio in high school, and decided to transfer to the fashion program at Colorado State University. I interned for three different [sewing and design studios]: One was on the East Coast; the other two were here in Colorado. I helped with client fittings, alterations, bridal alterations, sewing, pattern making, draping, flat-pattern making, fabric manipulation, and sketching.
It seems like your skillset developed pretty organically.
Yes. You discover that you can’t learn everything in a book; you really have to learn from other people. There are all these little tricks that you can only learn through someone else.
What made you decide to launch as a bridal and special occasion designer?
When I was in college, I was thinking about where I wanted to start my career. I love making all kinds of clothing, but I didn’t want to start doing everything. I finally landed on evening wear and bridal, because I thought it was a good way for me to make a mark with my signature style and that it would be more fun for me, as well. Hopefully as we grow, we’ll be able to create a Ready-to-Wear line.
Many people buy inexpensive pieces that are usually made overseas, so they’ve become very disconnected from their wardrobe, and how clothing is made. How do you counter that?
I think that’s one of my struggles: trying to educate people. For example, when I give a client the price of a custom dress, they’re sometimes surprised. But what I create isn’t made in China; it’s not Ready-to-Wear. There’s a lot of work put into every dress. I have to walk [the client] through everything, so that they really understand the process from start to finish.
Would you mind walking our readers through the process as well?
I start by meeting and talking with the client about the kind of dress they’re looking for. Then I’ll draw up a sketch, and we’ll talk about it and adjust the design so that it meets the client’s needs. Next we’ll look for fabrics and create a muslin of the design—essentially the mock up or prototype using less expensive material. The muslin will be fit to the client first and the studio will perfect it. The muslin will then be used to adjust the final pattern. Next, we use the pattern to cut out the actual fabric for the final dress. We’ll have at least one more fitting before the dress is finished.
I know you’ve already shown at Vancouver Fashion Week, and you’ll show at Denver Fashion Week in November. But you’re also prepping for New York Bridal Fashion Week in the fall. What’s that like?
It’s very exciting! Especially because I’m really excited about the new collection, which will have more florals and pastel colors—pinks, yellows, blue, green, a hint of purple. I’ll also be adding some different silhouettes. Of course, there will also be some sparkle in there.
I love that women are getting out of the tradition of just wearing white for their wedding.
I’ve always liked being different. I also hear brides telling me that they go into all these bridal shops and they get tired of seeing the same kinds of dresses. I want to create something different.
You’ve recently opened your new atelier and launched a new website. But all your offerings are still made-to-order, correct?
Right. You can order any of my designs through the website and it’s still made to fit you—you just need to input a few measurements. The reason we can do made-to-measure this way is because we already have the patterns. We ask that you give us about two months for delivery, but if you need it sooner, we just ask that you contact us. For the person who wants something completely custom instead of ordering one of my pieces, they can set up a free consultation.
There is not a lot of fashion production here in Denver. How do you make it work?
You have to find the right people. It’s tough to find people who do good work, because the industry is still really centered on the coasts.
Have you considered moving your production out of Colorado?
I have considered it. But I don’t feel comfortable giving someone work to do on their own or at their house; I feel more comfortable having them come in to my atelier and work on a piece where I can oversee it. I also love working with my clients face-to-face. Everyone is different.
It’s like the farm-to-table movement; suddenly, people are becoming more interested in how their clothing is made. I think it’s really special that you’re trying to stay here.
It’s tough, but I love helping women feel amazing. I just stay positive and believe that everything happens for a reason. That’s what keeps me going.
Allison Nicole Designs, 3000 S. Jamaica Ct., Ste 360 (by appointment only); 720-429-1067; allisonnicoledesigns.com
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.